Implementing a Centralized Recycling Collection System

This Great Forest case study was featured in Environmental Leader’s 2012 Insider Knowledge Report–Lessons Learned from Corporate Environmental, Sustainability and Energy Decision-Makers, pg 124. (download pdf, 2013 report).

Great Forest works with corporate clients to divert as much as 50,000 tons of material from landfills daily.

We find that in many cases, businesses can easily increase recycling rates by centralizing waste and recycling collection points on typical office floors. A simple pilot of this centralized system demonstrated measureable results.

What: We worked with a large financial services firm to quantify the success of this program across five floors of one of their commercial buildings in NYC.

The office floors had a traditional two-bin recycling set up. Each desk had two bins – a small black bin for trash and a blue bin for paper. There were also central bins for paper, bins for trash, and bins for bottles and cans in pantries.


  • The first thing we did was to conduct a compliance evaluation of the existing program (to see how the bins were being used) and a material content review (to see how much recyclables were in the trash and vice versa).
  • Next, the centralized program was implemented. All blue and black deskside bins were removed (about 1000 in total across the five floors). Central recycling stations were set-up in select locations throughout each floor. Each recycling station included a bin for trash, a bin for paper, and a bin for bottles/cans. Signage for these central stations were clear, visible and color coded.
  • Employees were informed of the change, and cleaning staff was trained on new collection procedures.
  • We then conducted a follow-up compliance evaluation and material content review to see if the centralized collection program improved recycling as expected.

Results: We found the percentage of recyclables in trash dropped by 75 percent with the centralized collection system. Percentage of recyclables in trash:

  • Traditional Recycling Program (with deskside bins): 30 percent
  • Centralized Collection Pilot (without deskside bins): 7 percent

Compliance (how employees use bins) also increased: 25 percent increase in correct use of trash bins, and 5 percent increase in correct use of paper bins.

Additional benefits to the centralized collection system:

  • a reduction in labor for collection of trash and recyclables (cleaning staff no longer need to spend time emptying bins across the floors),
  • and a significant reduction in the use of small bin liners (saving 1000 small liners a day).


By centralizing collection points for waste and recyclables, this financial firm ended up capturing more recyclables than they were with the traditional recycling set-up. This centralized system works because it makes people get up (literally) and think about what they are throwing away. With deskside bins, busy employees were not paying as much attention to which bins they were discarding items into. We have worked with other corporate clients to implement central collection systems. Each time we see the centralized system implemented, we find there is initial employee pushback with the removal of deskside bins. However, as with any new program, employees get used to the new system, especially when they learn that their efforts are really working.

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